Read SBB’s Testimony on Fertilizer Bill

Save Barnegat Bay explains the rationale for a fertilizer law governing content, not labeling. The bill was originated by Save Barnegat Bay.

Testimony of William deCamp Jr., Chairman

Before New Jersey Senate Environment Committee
and Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee

Restoring Barnegat Bay

Thursday, August 12, 2010
Toms River, New Jersey

Thank you, Chairman Smith and Chairman McKeon, for holding this hearing in the Barnegat Bay watershed and for your demonstrated strong commitment to the well being of Barnegat Bay.

Save Barnegat Bay supports all four bills under consideration today as written: S-1410 / A-2501, Soil Erosion & Sediment Control Act; S-1411 / A-2290 Fertilizer Regulation; S-1815 / A-2577, Ocean County Stormwater Demonstration Act, and S-1856 / A-2606, Stormwater Runoff Control Authority Act.

We are extremely grateful that you have listened and acted to move the effort to address the nutrient pollution of Barnegat Bay and of every water body in the state out of the realm of talk and into the realm of action. Creating a law regulating the content of nitrogen in fertilizer that is sold and used in the State of New Jersey instead of passing a mere labeling law is, in our view, an extremely responsible step.

Save Barnegat Bay is a not-for-profit environmental group that receives contributions from approximately 1,500 families and businesses annually. Our mission is to conserve clean water and undeveloped natural land throughout the Barnegat Bay Watershed. Save Barnegat Bay was founded in 1971 as the Ocean County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America. We have an office in Lavallette.

Although you will hear many references today to Barnegat Bay, it should be emphasized that these four bills have actual and potential statewide implications, especially the fertilizer measure S-1411 / A-2290, which is statewide in its scope and national in its itsimplications.

Nitrogen and Barnegat Bay in Brief:
Four Policy Goals

Barnegat Bay is like a garden getting too much fertilizer and no weeding. The excess nutrition the bay receives is in the form of nitrogen from multiple sources. Fertilizer is not the largest source of nitrogen to the bay. It is merely the most accessible with respect to reducing the total load of nitrogen. This excess nitrogen produces algal blooms which severely disrupt the ecosystem to the point at which Barnegat Bay is currently one of the most threatened estuaries in the nation.

When a raindrop falls in the State of New Jersey, it already has too much nitrogen in it. By picturing that falling raindrop, one can name the four public policy goals that must be achieved if we are to address the excessive nutrient loading to our state’s estuaries, whether they be the Delaware Bay and River Estuary, the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers, Newark Bay, or Barnegat Bay.

First, we must reduce the burning of fossil fuels so that the raindrop contains less nitrogen as it falls.

Second, we must restrain excessive development and conserve land in its natural state so that the nitrogen in the raindrop can be soaked up by a land plant rather than move over hard surfaces straight to the estuary where it becomes food for the algae.

Third, we must re-conceptualize and reconfigure storm water management. In the twentieth century we thought of successful storm water management as being achieved if there is no flooding after a storm event. In the twenty-first century we now know that for storm water management to be deemed successful there must, in addition to the volume of water being managed, be no excessive load of nutrients to the receiving water body. This means that as much stormwater as possible must be routed through planted areas where nitrogen can be removed before entering streams, rivers, lakes, and bays.

Fourth, we must not add more nitrogen once the raindrop has landed. This leads us to the subject of lawn fertilizer.

As I hope to elaborate in my spoken testimony, all four bills considered today address either the third or fourth of these policy goals, i.e., reconfiguring stormwater management and properly regulating fertilizer. No one step can restore the nutrient balance in Barnegat Bay. Many steps must be taken. All four bills address vital components. Even taken together they are just a start.

While we strongly endorse all four bills, we wish to focus our testimony on the fertilizer bill because Save Barnegat Bay was instrumental in initiating its core concepts.

Why Require at least 30% Slow Release Nitrogen?

The basic concept of requiring a minimum of 30% slow release nitrogen for fertilizer sold or used in New Jersey began in Save Barnegat Bay’s office in the form of a proposed Model Ordinance. This ordinance was endorsed by some of the leading marine scientists in the world including J. Frederick Grassle, founder and first Director of the Institute for Coastal and Marine Sciences at Rutgers, and Ivan Valiela of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, considered by some to be the leading authority on estuaries in the world.

We at Save Barnegat Bay are extremely grateful to the sponsors of S-1411 / A-2290 for incorporating our core concept into this legislation.

It is a commonplace of human experience that people seldom read labels. The New Jersey homeowner, with all the many factors she or he must balance in her or his life, cannot be expected to be an agronomist. He cannot be expected to:

– Read the directions, and
– Measure the area of his yard, and
– Measure the area taken up by his house and driveway, and
– Subtract one from the other, and
– Calculate the amount needed for his yard, and
– Set the spreader setting correctly, and
– Refrain from using any fertilizer beyond the amount calculated.

To the homeowner who does reliably undertake these steps, a blessing upon him. But common sense tells us that he is a rarity.

By ensuring that fertilizer with excessive water soluble content cannot be sold in our state, this law allows the homeowner to pull the bag off the retail shelf knowing that he is using a more environmentally responsible product.

Will many homeowners still over-apply fertilizer if the law limits the sale to products containing at least 30% nitrogen? Yes. But they will be over-applying a product less harmful to our water bodies. An analogy would be that if they are going to fire a weapon, let it be a bee-bee gun instead of a bazooka.

Who Recommends at Least 30%?

Among the agricultural schools recommending more than 30% slow release on their website are the following:

Cornell states that: “Soluble nitrogen sources are readily available to the plant, but on sandy soils there is the risk of leaching. A 50%-50% or 70%-30% mix of slow-release to quick-release N is less risky to the environment.”

The University of Maryland recommends 40% slow release:

The University of Florida recommends 30% slow release:

Virginia Tech has 4 fertilizing programs. Two recommend more than 50% slow release. Two recommend less than 50% slow release.

Penn State University says: “A guarantee that 30% or more of the total nitrogen is water insoluble or controlled release nitrogen indicates a quality turfgrass fertilizer.”

Print-outs of the relevant pages from these websites are attached.

The rationale given for these slow release recommendations is dual. The slow release nitrogen is less likely to go to the groundwater. And slow release is better for the grass, partly because makes it possible to fertilizer less often.

In order to convincingly argue that there is insufficient evidence to justify the 30% standard in S-1411 / A-2290, opponents must either argue that these five leading agricultural schools were all wrong in asserting that slow release nitrogen is less likely to make it to the groundwater than water soluble or they must argue that the groundwater is not a meaningful source of nitrogen transport to our streams and estuaries. Neither of these lines of thought is plausible.

* * * * * * *

Continue to Part Two of SBB testimony.

related Posts

May 8, 2023

Barnegat Bay Book Club

Save Barnegat Bay hosts the Barnegat Bay Book Club to celebrate the incredible books written over the years about the...
Read More
Apr 11, 2023


There are upcoming Save Barnegat Bay events. We will be working to engage with you virtually whenever possible! Watch for...
Read More
Jun 14, 2022

Join the Team! – STEM Summer Series: Teacher & Teacher Assistant Positions

STEM Summer Series Job Posting  Join the Borough of Bay Head and Save Barnegat Bay this summer at our STEM...
Read More